Let me set the stage, thus.
A Sunday afternoon, shopping in a predominantly White neighborhood, but the supermarket, a popular chain, evidently feeds or outsources its staff from outlying communities, so some of the employees tend to represent anything but what the neighborhood, ie shopping clientele, are composed of.
In other words, much of staff is Black and Hispanic which contrasts sharply with the straitlaced White customers who generally live prudent, responsible and restrained lives. But they like the finer things in life. So there is a “culture clash” in the store, but it never plays out harshly. Everybody is accommodating to the other. It’s civilized here.
This evening, the Hispanic cashier was jollying it up with a suburban White housewife as they talked about all kinds of bullshit and, in the process, stalled the line. Now I was there, waiting in this inexorable line and listening to this White floozy chatting it up with the loudmouthed Hispanic cashier for the longest time.
Waiting. I was in line because my girlfriend, Japanese, was daring to revisit the store after failing to run her club card through the self-checkout swiper this morning, thus entirely failing to recoup the savings that drew her to the store to begin with. This was her fault, entirely. She owed up to it. I lectured that one must always carry their club card into the store. I get stuck behind way too many morons who suddenly tell the cashier, “Oh, I don’t have my card,” and proceed to spend another 2 minute reciting their phone number, repeating it often, so the cashier can punch it in despite their mumbled, accented idiot accent.
Despite my lecture, my girlfriend persisted in going back to the store, receipt in hand, and asking the cashier to re-scan her faulty purchase and refund her the club savings she missed earlier. I cringed, but whatever. She is frugal, as am I. We are both frugal people. We are very tight and we watch every penny and no detail escapes our purview. We are built that way and perhaps, it is why we are together.
We walked into the store and lined up.
The cashier, after flapping her trap with the previous customer, finally serviced my friend.
She explained the problem and the remedy she was seeking. The cashier, hurriedly and not horribly enthusiastically, rang up a halfhearted reversal and handed my girlfriend $3.50.
During the interaction, I stood back and listened as she described the morning’s self-checkout events leading to our present predicament. During this time, the bag-boy, also Hispanic, made a gesture to the cashier. It was unmistakable! I’m Mexican, damnit, I knew that gesture.
Did he think he think I would not see? Did he think I was not Mexican? I mean, I don’t present the normal Mexican appearance in that I don’t wear a Dodger cap, I’m not horribly dark, and my BMI is under 20, but still, I think I look pretty Mexican. Nevertheless, he made the gesture, faintly and surreptitiously and I caught it.
The tacaño motion!
I know it well. My parents are both very miserly, and unlike newer generations of consumerized Hispanic children, do not seek to exceed their means with credit or loans or peer status. They have always been very “conservative” about their spending and that lesson eventually found its way into my lifestyle. I clip coupons, I live an ascetic existence simply because I hate to spend my money.
Even my parents, the ultimate misers, laugh at me, and they occasionally make the tacaño gesture at me, their own son.
A writer by the name of Brandi explained the gesture in this post from 2009.
now let us learn how to make the official Spanish sign for “tacaño”. To do this, put your right forearm in front of you with the fist pointing up in the air (forearm vertical, the rest of your arm is horizontal). Make sure that your right hand is in a fist. Then, with your left hand, smack the bottom of your elbow three times (slap up and down and not sideways).
That’s exactly it.
The tacaño gesture is simply made up of patting the exterior portion of your elbow while your arm is bent. In Hispanic culture, this denotes that you are “tight.” It means you count your pennies and have uncharacteristic good sense about life and you are decidedly un-Hispanic in that you do not devote your life to lavish overstatement or overindulgence. Gluttony and sensuality are your enemies which, by nature, puts you at odds with the majority of your countrymen. Mexico has a higher rate of obesity than the United States. This is not an accident or the stray offshoot of some sinister elitist food-industrialist plot by American companies. It’s because Mexican culture is simply hedonistic and gluttonously sensual. There is little sense of prudence and restraint in Hispanic culture.
Tacaño is the Spanish recognition of that person who will not “let loose.”
So today, at the store, when my girlfriend began squabbling about a few dollars’ worth of store discount she failed to receive, the traditionally Hispanic bag-boy instantly reverted to Hispanic mode and signaled that there was a very frugal person in line by demonstrating the universal Hispanic symbol which most in the store would not have recognized, save for me, the Mexican standing right in front of him.
This is the elemental problem with Hispanic culture.
It blinds us to living a conscientious and responsible life. My culture downplays the minute because it is fixated with the macro, the grand; it is a very extroverted and carefree culture, and one does not sweat the details. If someone pats their elbow at you, it’s not simply that they are implying you find it difficult to part with money, but that you find it difficult to let go of the formidable demands that a responsible life places on you.
Maybe if Hispanics stopped demonizing that tacaño perspective, they might actually start taking care of business and stop having to grovel at the doorsteps of those who value such minimalism.
Perhaps the bag-boy made the gesture at my girlfriend obvious because he passively needed to let her know (through me), or perhaps he simply thought I was Armenian or Jewish or some other depressing possibility.
She sensed the antagonistic attitude on the part of the Hispanic cashier; she did not note the bag-boy’s physical commentary, and I did not tell her.
Sometimes I feel like such a stranger in a strange land.